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A Trip to Naypyidaw – Myanmar’s Modern Capital

It was a spontaneous decision to visit Naypyidaw for the weekend. What I had heard about it was not really inspiring – mostly that it’s an empty city in the middle of nowhere with nothing to see or do.

In fact, when you tell a Myanmar person that you’ve been to Naypyidaw as a tourist, they will probably look at you very surprised and most certainly ask: “But why?” The simple answer: I was intrigued!

The city was secretly built in the 2000s in a remote area of bush land, replacing Yangon as the official capital at the end of 2005. Rumors say that government workers were given only a few hours’ notice to move to the new capital, at a time of day allegedly set by astrologers.

And so on a Saturday morning a colleague and I hopped on a bus for the approximately 5 hour drive to Naypyidaw. The highway between Yangon and the new capital is in surprisingly good condition and the 300km-road cuts a straight line running through vast green fields. After exiting the expressway the bus drives for a while before entering the hotel zone, dropping people off along the way at the entrance of where they’ll be staying. The hotel zone is exactly what its name suggests: a huge area of the city containing only hotels, mostly built in an elegant villa-style. Naypyidaw is divided into many of these zones, each one of them containing buildings that serve a specific purpose.

After checking in we set out to explore the city by motorbike taxi. Along the way we went from one zone to the next, covering distances that would have been impossible to walk. It’s a bedazzling sight to see the sheer size of the roads in the capital, sometimes up to 12 lanes wide and nearly empty. The stark contrast to the bustling city of Yangon with its narrow roads and frequent traffic jams is evident.

Another aspect that stands out to every Naypyidaw visitor is how new the buildings are. All construction in the city are less than 10 years old and built in a modern style featuring interpretations of traditional Burmese architecture. The grandest building of all, the Parliament, is unfortunately still off limits for visitors so we were not able to visit. However we were impressed with Uppatasanti Pagoda, a replica of the stunning Shwedagon. While lacking the flair and historical background of the Yangon temple, it is nevertheless a sight that should not be missed during a trip to Naypyidaw.

Overall, taking into account all that Myanmar has to offer, its capital is definitely not a destination to be put on the priority list. On the other hand, you’ll probably never see a city like this anywhere else in the world. The strangeness does have an appeal and if you have a day or two to spare, a trip to Naypyidaw will certainly be one to remember.

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